Like a Local: Tips for Women Traveling in India

November 10, 2015

As a foreigner living in India, everyday brings another story to tell. I moved to Rajasthan in January 2015 to pursue an opportunity in the non-profit world. Now everyday when I awake, I am unable to truly express the amount of happiness and satisfaction that India has brought to my life.

But although India has quickly become my second home, it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took effort to let go of old routines and customs embedded in me from growing up in Canada. I now live and work among local rural communities and find that this has really helped me embrace everything India has to offer–not only as a foreign resident but also as a woman.

Living in India is definitely not for everyone but a lot of what I have learned is beneficial for female travelers stepping through this colorful and roaring country – from train safety to dealing with that time of the month. You may have read a few articles recommending that you “carry hand sanitizer and dress modestly,” which you absolutely should, but here are a few tips for helping you experience India with some local edge:

Like a Local: Tips for Women Traveling in India

Transportation: The Indian Railway

No need for taxis! India is completely accessible via public transportation. You may not believe it but every inch of this country is accessible by train, bus or rickshaw (or foot when the alleys of Udaipur or Mumbai become too thin). The Indian railway is the perfect definition of organized chaos and one of the best inventions next to ice cream.

All trains are equipped with beds and catering (hired by the railway to prepare hot meals on board), as well as random salesmen (literally men and women who walk the carts selling a wide range of different foods and services – from samosas to ear cleaning). And yes, both western and Indian-styled bathrooms are located onboard.

Now here’s a break down of how the train works. There are a few selections for train accommodation but most popular is AC Class and Sleeper Class. AC class is the most comfortable and safe, equipped with air conditioning, blankets and pillows for your thin, blue, vinyl mattress, as well as meals.

Sleeper Class is how you might define “roughing it.”

Sleeper Class is how you might define “roughing it.” This is the budget-friendly, backpacker-style of traveling and my favorite way to get around. Fresh (hot) air is provided via windows and door-less exits from the train; and food comes from “salesmen” walking the cart or by grabbing snacks at different stations when the train stops for meal breaks. This is how locals travel and I promise you, it’s worth sweating profusely because the people you meet in the Sleeper Class are the people who you will cherish the most.

My favorite Sleeper Class memory: starting a cart-wide poker tournament while traveling from Punjab to Rajasthan (a 14-hour journey and probably one of my shortest!). For staying safe, always request an upper bunk so you can ensure that while you are sleeping, you can protect your bags between your body and the wall of the train.

The easiest way to book trains and buses is through If you want to do it the local way, try booking inside the train station at the ticket office. This is a great opportunity to experience what waiting in line is like in India. (Hint: there is no line.)

Shopping: Bargaining and Winning

The moment a foreigner walks into a market, the price of every item suddenly triples. Seriously! Here’s my 5-step process to bargaining:

  1. Never show interest in anything. Keep it cool and only pick up an item you want to buy after you’ve asked the price.
  2. Once you’ve asked the price, and the shopkeeper has given you some ridiculous amount, reply by requesting 1/3 of the price offered. The shopkeeper will most likely laugh, sigh or click his tongue in disappointment but that’s just because he is about to deliver a very dramatic story to guilt you into purchasing the item at his requested price point.
  3. If the shopkeeper replies to your price with a price still higher than what you’ve offered, try one more time. If he doesn’t budge, or budges a little bit but not enough, put the item down and walk away.
  4. Get ready to pull out your wallet because he will most likely run after you and grant you the price you wish.
  5. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of something you probably still overpaid for but at least you aimed low and got what you wanted.

Note: It’s always helpful to shop with a local friend who will know the local rate for everything, and can bargain for you.

Relationships: Making Local Friends

It’s easy to find young 20-somethings in the big cities who speak English. But developing a bond can always be a struggle because the first challenge is putting yourself out there. My advice is to always be friendly (I know, obvious right?) and extend an invitation for food or drinks when you come across someone you think you could really connect with.

I’m a frequent visitor to New Delhi, one of my favorite cities in India (which most people find odd), and I met a great group of friends through a tattoo artist there. I went from getting a tattoo to the bar all within an 8-hour span. Suddenly, I had created an awesome group of friends who all happen to be young entrepreneurs with the kindest hearts.

Like a Local: Tips for Women Traveling in India

Sanitation: Taking Care of Business

First, don’t knock it until you try it.  Wiping with your left hand really isn’t that bad. This is the local way – wipe with your left and eat with your right. There is always water nearby to help with the process and some western toilets are built with a “water gun” hole at the back of the toilet seat to help make the process even smoother.

If you are reading this and saying, “no way, Jose!” then I recommend you invest in some toilet paper rolls from convenience stores in the cities to carry around in your bag. Rolls cost anywhere between 25 – 75 rupees (around $1 USD).

For women who frequently travel, I highly recommend purchasing a menstrual cup, especially if you’ll be in Asia.

As for the other issue us females have to deal with every month, this would be a great time to tell you that I’ve never seen a tampon for sale in India. Pads, yes. Tampons, no. For women who frequently travel, I highly recommend purchasing a menstrual cup, especially if you’ll be in Asia. Menstrual cups stay inside the body and you can empty them when visiting the bathroom. They are hygienic, as long as you clean them properly. They’re definitely the best choice for women traveling in India because garbage bins aren’t provided in bathrooms. Plus, a menstrual cup will ensure that you produce less waste!

There is something special about embracing a culture so foreign from one’s own and getting a feel for what it’s like to live like this everyday. As you prepare for your trip, keep these tips in mind and don’t be afraid to reach out to locals when you want recommendations, advice, or help getting somewhere. The people of India are the most hospitable and generous people I’ve ever met. Yet another reason why India will always be my second home


Like a Local: Tips for Women Traveling in India photo credits: Jessica Shen.

About Jazzmine Lawton Raine

23-year-old with a passion for social change, travel and meeting new people. I currently live and work in northern India working with women’s empowerment. Nothing makes me happier than being the reason there is a smile on someone’s face.

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